International cooperation has become a universal mandate for governing transboundary waterbodies. Diverse stakeholders promote cooperation as a desirable, if not indispensable, approach to achieving sustainable and equitable benefits from and for transboundary waterbodies. However, calls for international water cooperation operate from the presupposition that cooperation is an unambiguous concept. While cooperation appears self-evident and unproblematic, cases of formal cooperation reveal points of contestation about cooperation itself. For example, India and Bangladesh disagree about the extent to which cooperation is occurring over the Ganges River despite having penned a bilateral treaty that has been in force for 20 years. I analyze qualitative interviews and previously unpublished hydrological data to evaluate assertions that hydrological hazards in Southwestern Bangladesh result from India's activities and that India is failing to uphold the 1996 agreement. The analysis indicates that these assertions are true and false: India is broadly adhering to the Ganges Treaty but unilaterally withdraws water during a critical period of the dry season when regional livelihoods are most vulnerable. The study concludes that transboundary water cooperation as an abstract ideal overlooks the fact that cooperation as a practice emerges from and operates within specific historical, political, cultural, and economic contexts.
Research Article|March 15 2017